How One Championship became the first truly pan-Asian sports media property
Marketing speaks with Chatri Sityodtong, founder and chairman of One Championship, Asia’s largest sports media property.
One Championship is Asia’s largest sports media property. The mixed martial arts tournament broadcasts in 118 countries and enjoys a rapidly growing online following and list of Fortune 500 clients.
Entrepreneur and martial arts expert Chatri Sityodtong saw a gap in the market, where every other region in the world had its own multi-billion dollar sports media property – think NBA, NFL or UFC in North America – but there was no truly pan-Asian sport media property. Cricket is a billion dollar industry in India, baseball is huge in Japan, but martial arts is a sport for which a diverse range of Asian countries and cultures each has its own form.
Sityodtong recognised this and since co-founding One Championship in 2011, has grown the brand through fights, events and online activity celebrating what he calls the beauty, traditions and values of martial arts, and how they closely link with Asian culture.
Marketing speaks with Sityodtong about One Championship, growth, competition and engagement.
Marketing: Tell us more about MMA in Asia. It’s certainly grown in Australia in the last few years. How competitive is it with different brands around the world?
We actually did a consulting study that found an estimated 563 million fans of mixed martial arts in Asia. I estimate that’s going to be four billion, because martial arts is part of the history, the fabric of society. It’s part of our tradition.
One Championship is a celebration of the true beauty and values of martial arts. Integrity, humility, courage, fearlessness, discipline, work ethic, respect and honour.
These are ingrained in Asian society as a whole, and are deeply rooted in martial arts. MMA has much much further to go, and Asia has the potential to be the largest media market in the world with four billion people.
M: If you look at MMA leagues and championships, is there a lot of competition between brands?
CS: Basically it’s become a global duopoly. UFC has 90% market share in the western hemisphere. It’s the biggest player. In the eastern hemisphere, it’s One Championship. We have 90% market share here in Asia.
It’s like every other industry. Alibaba versus Amazon, Apple versus Samsung, Toyota versus GM, the list goes on. In every industry where there is a western part, there is an eastern counterpart of equal size and equal might.
We’re able to localise everything to the Asian consumer.
UFC is mainstream now in America. MMA is not yet mainstream in Asia, but martial arts is very much mainstream.
If I had to say the difference between UFC and One Championship, UFC is marketed as a sport, One Championship is true martial arts.
UFC is about marketing blood, violence, arrogance, hatred and disrespect. Look at all the disrespectful behaviour and language. All that negative energy really sells in the western hemisphere. Think Conor McGregor, think trash-talking. In Asia, that does not resonate at all with fans.
Asian consumers care about respect, about humility, about kindness. If you look at the biggest heroes, whether it’s athletic or whether it’s movie heroes, in Asia, they’re all very humble and sweet and kind individuals. Manny Pacquiao, Yao Ming, Jackie Chan.
These are the kind of heroes that Asians really gravitate towards. There has never been an Asian hero ever like a brash arrogant trash-talking guy like Conor McGregor or Jon Jones in the US. It just doesn’t happen in Asia because it’s a different values system.
UFC has done a great job of marketing their product to the western hemisphere, they’ve sold out very well, but it hasn’t worked in Asia.
M: So tapping into an existing fanbase of martial arts fans was the first step to success. How do you go about engaging new consumers and growing?
CS: I believe in the next five to 10 years, martial arts will once again be the biggest sport in all of Asia. What One Championship is doing is reawakening and reigniting what has always been part of our history.
We’re making an entertaining sports format, a very exciting spectacle format. Martial arts is part of our history, part of our culture. I’m re-introducing it to the next generation with laser lights, fireworks, superheroes, costumes and rock and pop concerts embedded in the event itself.
This is a very new approach to martial arts. I’m quite confident. If you look at the biggest sporting heroes, who are they? If you look at the biggest movie heroes, who are they? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re all martial artists. Now it’s time for the real sports heroes to be our superheroes.
In Asia in the last hundred years, we’ve always imported our sports and our sports heroes. We would watch EPL or Formula One on TV. The heroes became Michael Jordan, David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton.
The reality is, however, that people want to root for people who are very similar to themselves.
We had the Olympics. Every country’s so proud when they get an Olympic gold medal. It’s why, when you watch TV, you’re always rooting for the country you’re from. That very same spirit, that very same pride, that very same deep emotion and passion, is what we are striking in all of our fans. The reality is Asians are the very best at martial arts – in history, as well as today.
Showcasing Asian heroes on the global stage, showing the very best of the best…this is what One Championship is about.
This is the reason why our TV ratings have really skyrocketed. Last week, we were the number one rated show in Indonesia as we had a live event there. The month before that, we had a number one rated show in the Philippines.
The numbers have been eye-popping from a TV ratings perspective and from the social media metrics. I think what’s happened again is Asians are really embracing their own heritage, in a way they never have before. Nobody’s ever tried to attempt what I’m attempting.
M: Asia is a complex market with many languages and cultures. How do you approach building One Championship as a media empire for very diverse markets?
CS: That’s why western properties – in sports or otherwise – have a hard time tackling Asia.
Every country is very distinct. Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim society, Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist society, Japan is Shintoism and Buddhism. You have a lot of really differentiated points about Asian culture, Asian religions and Asian societies.
All of that together makes it very, very complex to deal with. At the same time, we’ve been dealing with that ever since we launched. We’ve been dealing with that successfully in so many different countries that now we’re used to it.
We have professional relationships with the highest levels of government in each country now, the highest levels of military in each country, the highest levels of business communities and the highest levels of the martial arts community.
We’re very much entrenched in every country now. That took a lot of time, expertise and know-how, as well as local knowledge of all those factors.
M: In terms of sponsorship and monetisation, what’s the pitch to brands, and what sort of brands are you working with?
CS: Our client roster has the largest Fortune 500 client list of any Asian sports media property. We have clients such as Disney, Facebook, Yahoo!, LG Electronics, L’Oreal and Kawasaki. The list goes on.
Take Disney, for example. Disney launches all their action movies for the year at One Championship events in Asia.
Marvel, Avengers, Iron Man, all those action series have all partnered with One Championship as official launch partner for their movies.
They reach 118 countries through broadcasts and events. They can actively engage with the consumer, with the largest and most active social media platform in Asia, our One Championship platform. They engage through our PR machine, that’s able to hook, drive and customise stories for a brand.
You want to get entrenched in authenticity in Asia, and nothing is more authentic in Asia than martial arts.
As an organisation, we really focus on the true beauty of martial arts. The values: integrity, humility, courage, fearlessness, work ethic, discipline. The fight is almost the last part of what we focus on. We focus on the inspirational life stories of our heroes, of people who have overcome incredible odds – adversity, poverty – to become the world champion.
Our roster is very extensive now, which is very fortunate. People have embraced it.
Our audience is 60% male, 40% female; 75% of our viewers are in the 18-38 year-old demographic and 71% of our viewer audience are college graduates, so we have a lot of excellent demographics that I didn’t expect, to be honest, when I started here.
But it happened, and I think it’s because of the authenticity. People want to watch real things. Real life. They want something that’s relevant to them.
The magic formula for One Championship is local relevance – deep local relevance – and global appeal, because we’re the largest global stage of martial arts in all of Asia. It’s very much like an Olympics.
For lack of a better name, are we the Olympics of martial arts?
M: In terms of being a media property or platform, how big is the digital side?
CS: Just on Facebook alone, we have three million fans. We had 1.3 billion impressions on social media last year.
We’ve grown, in terms of video views on Facebook, from 300,000 video views in 2014 to 130 million two years later. Think about those numbers. It’s astronomical.
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